Trial by Bike Tour

2 08 2012

I’d been talking with A-bomb for months about going on a bike camping trip, so the “Lake Wabamun Bike Attack” was highly anticipated. After meeting at MEC and loading up on Clif Bars and chamois cream, four intrepid adventurers, dressed mainly in white, hit the highway in 30+ degree weather with the goal of frolicking on the shores of the second largest lake in Alberta.

Panda on the highway. Highway 16A was busy but had wide shoulders that were generally in good shape.

The first stop we had planned was the legendary vegan restaurant in Stony Plain. Twice before I have tried to eat there, and both times it didn’t work out, so I was sure third time would be the charm. The promise of healthy & varied vegan nosh kept us motivated as we rode through the outer suburbs, stomachs becoming increasingly demanding. When we got there, all was quiet. There was a small sign in the door that basically said they were out of business. Some internet snooping informed us that this had only happened in the last few weeks, and there were a steady stream of disappointed customers coming to the door who hadn’t heard the news either.

I left a note on the door expressing the extreme disappointment of riding for more than two hours to get there, but that was only half of it, because now I was in the situation I really wanted to avoid, finding a nourishing vegan meal in a small town restaurant. The place we ended up eating (ironically) used to be a garage/service station, and I had (wait for it) onion rings and fries, aka the small town vegan special. I hit a grocery store before we hit the road again to try to round out my fuel.

Instead of following Highway 16A all the way to the Yellowhead, we turned down Parkland drive, which proved to be one of the loveliest country roads I’ve ever cycled. No cars, gently rolling hills, lots of trees & scenery, this is what bike touring is all about.

Parkland Drive: highly recommended.

Too bad that lovely road had a few surprises in store for me. After a rest stop at a country school, I was fiddling with my panniers because I was having some heel strike issues. We were not far on our way when a large dip in the road caused one pannier to bounce into the spokes of my back wheel, taking out three of them. This is the part where I turn into a cartoon with a cloud of expletive punctuation above my head. After letting off steam, I started unthreading the spokes from the wheel and figuring out what to do next. Disengaging the back brakes was enough to prevent most rubbing on the now warped rim, and my front brakes were good. Perhaps I could move a spoke from another part of the wheel to help balance it a bit more when we got to camp. Because I was traveling with a couple of first time bicycle tourists, I brought way more tools than I thought I’d possibly need, including spoke wrenches, so it was doable (thankfully, they were non-drive side spokes – I wasn’t so overly prepared to have a Regina freewheel remover). I also remembered the time my ex-companion rolled into Vancouver with 8 broken spokes, having travelled with more weight and farther than I was from home. As long as my wheels kept rolling, so did I, and I let my fellow travelers know that I’d be taking it easier (they were probably happy to hear that) but I was still good to go.

I formulated a plan for when we made camp. I had taken great care to pack some vegan marshmallows, and that night we’d roast them on the broken spokes.

Not long after that, I noticed some wasps flying behind A-bomb, like they were following her. A couple minutes later, a massive shocking pain sent me into screaming fits. A wasp had flown up my skirt and stung me. Having had an allergic reaction before, I was extremely worried about what could happen. Luckily, I’d packed some antihistamines and ibuprofen, which I took before the swelling started. It wasn’t long before I was riding again, wearing my brave face.

When we got to Wabamun, I couldn’t jump into the lake fast enough, but we decided to set up camp first. The check in lady was confused. What was our vehicle’s license plate number? “Umm, we’re on bikes.” Well, what were the bikes’ license plate numbers? “Bikes, you know, bicycles, we don’t have one.” the plate number on our permit ended up reading ABC 123.

When we got to our reserved spot, there were three pickup trucks parked in it. Like, seriously? The owners of said trucks in the neighboring site were rather incredulous that a group of cyclists wanted to displace them, luckily a park ranger just happened to drive by at that exact moment, and the pickups scattered like roaches in the light.

We settled in, unloaded the bikes and had a snack, then finally started to make our way down to the beach. Going down the first hill, I heard a crash and the sound of metal skidding over asphalt from behind me, then saw Neal’s saddle sliding down the hill in front of me. The bolt that holds the saddle to the seat post had sheared in two. Unlike my wheel, this was something that couldn’t be limped, and I started to really worry about how Neal was going to ride. Brendan suggested we try to find the park maintenance folks as they might have a bolt that would work. At the camp office, they told us we could try to track down the maintenance crew tomorrow, and also that there was a hardware store in town. With two possible solutions to be investigated the next day, it was time to get down to beach!

Swim bliss. At this moment, I didn’t care if I had to walk home.

A blue damselfly chows down on an unlucky fly, on my towel.

A view from inside the bay. I don’t get enough excuses to post underwater photos on this blog.

By the time we got to the beach, the sun was orange and low in the sky, and most people were going home. It was still super hot, though, and lake was the perfect remedy.

That night, I roasted those vegan marshmallows on the campfire with spokes like I promised  myself I would and unweighted the day’s stressors. The company around the fire was lovely, and despite all the difficulties, I was feeling pretty good about where I was.

One of the reasons I love hammock camping: this is the view you get to wake up to in the morning.

The next morning, I decided to leave my wheel as is because it had full tire pressure and would probably lose less momentum with the brake rub and wobble than if I disassembled the wheel and rearranged the spokes then was only able to get up to 50 or 60psi with my frame pump. And there’d be no guarantee the wheel would be true enough that i could reengage the brakes.

Meanwhile, A-bomb and Brendan biked into town to try to find a replacement bolt for Neal’s seat. I was reticent about not going, but it was a good thing I didn’t as the path to town included some steep rough single track -no place for crippled Mercier. At the hardware tore, they had almost given up and were working on plan B until another employee said “oh, I bet that’s a metric bolt. They’re on the other side of the store.” In the entire Home Hardware, they found a single bolt that fit.

Back at camp, Neal installs the new bolt. This was also the time we found out that the previous owner of his bike had sawed off the seat post and the minimum insertion point was now a centimeter from the bottom of it. Neal’s a pretty tall guy, so this was very bad news.

We packed up camp and prepared for a slow ride home, between my fucked wheel and Neal’s too low saddle. It was also at about this time that Brenden discovered his keys were missing. WTF?

As the temperature once again reached more than 30 degrees, we stopped at the now overcrowded beach again before getting back on the road.

Heading home on beautiful Parkland Drive. I think A-bomb will reconsider her choice to ride in jeans the next time she goes 80km. Other than that, she did well on the single speed.

We retraced our route in the afternoon heat, hoping to find Brendan’s keys. With every stop, our bike breeze also stopped, and the heat was starting to take a toll on us so we had a longish break in the shadow of an overpass. By the time we crossed city limits, it was late enough that the heat was finally starting to break. We weren’t home free, though, and were reminded of this by the cherry on top of our day – Brendan got a flat.

This is possibly the longest post I’ve ever done (sorry about that), and it does seem to read like a series of unlikely misadventures crammed into a 36 hour period. The thing is, I don’t remember it as a near disaster, but as a fun adventure that challenged everyone involved, and feel accomplished for having got through it. We don’t remind ourselves how much we are capable of enough. Trial by bike tour proves you’re a lot less limited than you thought. (And that when life gives you broken spokes, roast vegan marshmallows on them!)

Advertisements




A Soggy S24O

5 07 2012

Sometimes, I just have to be outside. And with summer underway, I want to savour every moment, including the warm summer rain. On this evening, all I wanted was to sleep in the forest away from other humanity and let the gentle percussion of rain drops on the fly of my hammock lull me to sleep. So with little daylight left, and a brief break in the rain, I headed out to a little place I know that’s off the map but not too far from home.

In the home of the deer & coyotes.

Part of the reason I wanted to go was that I wanted to test out my gear in the rain before heading out on a longer trip, and I knew that the destination I selected would allow me to head home without too much trouble if anything failed.

My wet camp in the misty woods.

Getting there wasn’t as simple as I thought. There once was a gravel road leading into the area, but all the gravel has been removed and only the clay road base remains. I suppose this was to aid in the “naturalization” process and keep domesticated animals (specifically humans & dogs) from bothering the local wildlife, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t already turned into a soupy, slippery mess from the day’s rains. As I powered through the mud on my fully loaded bike, the clay just stuck to it, enveloping my brakes, clogging my fenders, plastering the backsides of my panniers.

This is what my bike looked like after riding through a quarter section of hay fields and another section of game trails in the bush, which was my strategy for trying to knock the muck off.

I ended up having to drag my bike through some of the mud, and had to grab sticks to poke out the mud & rocks that were preventing my wheels from moving. After finally passing the horrible used-to-be-road, it started to rain again, and I realized that I’d passed the point of no return. I managed to set up camp and retreat to my hammock with, literally, seconds to spare before the sky completely opened up. Dry and cozy, I curled up and listened to the rain and thunder and the runoff rushing underneath while gently swaying with the trees. And between showers, I could hear the coyotes howling and slinking through the forest.

While my stay was refreshing, it wasn’t exactly restful, and I was up (for me) freakishly early. Eager for a hot drink and to try out my new toy, I broke out the Trangia to make some tea.

A Trangia is a super lightweight alcohol fueled camp stove. It took a few minutes to boil 2 cups of water.

The rain stopped just long enough for me to have some breakfast & break camp, and I was re-energized by the hot drink & fuel. After trying to poke what mud I could out of my wheels, I started the return journey. Unfortunately, the only way in or out of this place with a loaded bike is the non-road that I took on the way in. Because it had been raining all night, it was even more of a mess.

I would ride until my wheels wouldn’t turn (about 10-50 feet) and then poke out as much clay as I could with a stick and try again. I’d get off the bike and drag it, all the time barely keeping my own footing in the greasy mud. By the time I made it through that half mile of hell, I was exhausted and felt like I didn’t save any energy by not going much further afield.

Nearing home. To quote a friend, “at least my skin is waterproof.”

My upper body was sore for days after, but the worst casualty of the day was my bike. A couple of days later, when I took the Globe to EBC to chisel off the caked on mud remains, it took me 5 hours to clean it, and when I swept up the pile of dried mud under the bike stand it weighed more than 3 pounds. Come to think about it, I still haven’t cleaned the mud off of the backs of my front panniers – better get on that before the next trip.





Country Roads

14 07 2010

On a hot summer weekend, what options do city weary, vacation deprived, car free folk have, except to load down the bikes and head for the hills?

Alex can see for miles. Miles & miles of canola and hay.

The biggest problem is where to go. What’s the point of going on a car free camping trip just to end up in a campground full of all-night-drinking-car-campers, RVs with massive noisy generators and ATVs ripping up the back-roads? Camping in a “non-sanctioned” area is a possibility because the bikes can access places cars can’t and a bike campsite can be easily concealed and leave no trace. However, there is almost no crown land within a day’s ride of the city, which leaves the option of finding a place to stay where you won’t be noticed or bother anyone. When we left the city, we had such a place in mind: an abandoned ski resort with a sketchy absentee landlord.

The snags started before we even left home. My companion’s derailleur imploded after a late end to the night before we departed, leaving him unable to get home and pack until right before we were supposed to leave. We ended up leaving several hours late and did at least 20km in wrong turn extra riding, mostly on roads with no shoulders and cars going uncomfortably fast. The previously mentioned vegan restaurant was closed by the time we got there (small town hours), but I was happy just to verify with my own eyes that it was actually there. The sun had already set when we turned off the highway towards our intended campsite, and we were both grumpy & tired from the long ride (75km – personal record!)  but we were still facing the stress, uncertainty and growing desperation of finding a place to sleep.

The old resort turned out to be not as abandoned as we thought it would be, and we anxiously rolled our bikes through the mud in stealth mode before being swallowed by the evening mist.  On arriving at the former chalet, we hurriedly pulled our bikes inside and hunkered down for fear of being followed. All the windows had been smashed, and every surface inside was covered in broken glass, ceramic, fluorescent tubes, really anything that was smashable had been smashed. And we weren’t alone – the place was full of bats (and bat guano). It was about the same time I realized that I didn’t want to camp anywhere near this building that I realized that the layer of mud on my bike tires was now completely coated in broken glass like sprinkles on ice cream.

My companion calmed me down and cleaned my tires, and we set off to find a better campsite nearby, setting up in the dark, and hoping to at least get a full nights sleep before any possible rude awakenings. Then the loons started to call, and when I heard their manic, bone chilling cries, I knew that this trip was worth the trouble. They called through the night and into the morning.

Waking up to a place being reclaimed by nature was both disorienting and glorious after the previous night’s misadventure.

Campsite by daylight.

With daylight, tracks revealed that we did have a night time visitor – a deer had wandered through camp, and I also found I had hung my hammock over a large pile of moose turds (which were everywhere). Daylight also afforded an opportunity to check out what was left of the ski resort, so we packed up, stashed the bikes, and set off exploring.

Overgrown T-bar lift.

Poplars have begun to grow into the chair lift seats that have hung in place for the last decade and a half.

The remains of the ski chalet, now home to many, many bats. The place looked like it was once pretty nice. There are even little hearts carved into the shutters.

Down on the lake, the family of loons swam and cooed. It was encouraging to see so much wildlife thriving in this former human playground, and it makes me hope that it doesn’t get redeveloped, just forgotten and reclaimed by nature.

With the temperature rising and our water dwindling we hit the road, on the hunt for water, both the swimmable and the drinkable kind, and coffee for my companion. There are many little private beaches on the lakes in the area, but no public ones, at least not since the last one was bought by a developer intent on building a bunch of condos and turning it into a beachside privatopia. Some pre-trip research revealed that said developer’s plan was denied permission by the county, and that the beach was still in good shape for swimming, so we figured it was worth checking out.

Research, curiosity and audacity is rewarded with a swim at a nearly perfect beach, all to ourselves. Also, check out the front lowrider rack, FTW!

Refreshed from our swim, we headed back towards town. We decided to take the major highway back into the city, as even though it had more traffic and a higher speed limit, it had wide, freshly paved shoulders and was more direct than the meandering backroads. I can’t really call all the highway riding pleasant, but it wasn’t really that unpleasant either, with drivers giving us lots of space and not being assholes like they are in the city. I preferred the main highway to the shoulderless secondary highways of the previous day by far (though the empty country roads were the best).

As we were riding through the inner suburbs of Edmonton, almost home, a woman in an SUV stopped and yelled at us, “I saw you guys riding way out there! Wow you’re fast!” Wow indeed.